Unemployment benefits have become a primary source of temporary income for millions of Americans as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. But not all unemployment claims get accepted. If you don't fulfill your state's criteria for qualification, it can deny you, potentially leaving you without needed income.
There are various reasons for this, including some that aren't so obvious. Here's a closer look at five of the most common reasons your unemployment application might be denied and what you can do if it is.
1. You didn't earn enough money during your base period
Most states determine your unemployment eligibility by looking at your earnings during a base period. This is usually the first four of the five most recently completed fiscal quarters. So if you applied for unemployment in March 2020, that means it's looking at your income from October 2018 to September 2019, and if you apply in April 2020, it's income generates from January to December 2019.
You'll likely need to show you had taxable income in at least two of the four quarters during the base period. Some states will consider an alternative base period, usually the most recent four completed quarters, if you aren't eligible for unemployment based on the traditional base period. The exact minimum amount you need to earn in your total base period varies by state, and this also dictates the size of your unemployment checks.
If you didn't earn enough money during the base period, appealing your decision likely won't help, so you will have to explore other options to make ends meet, like the tips below.
2. You didn't earn enough money in your high quarter
In addition to the base-period earning requirements, some states require you to earn a certain minimum amount in the highest-earning quarter of your base period. Again, the exact requirements vary by state, and your high-quarter earnings can dictate the size of your benefits. If you don't meet the minimum requirements, you'll have to seek out other forms of support.
3. You left out some information on your application
Your state unemployment office may believe you didn't meet the earnings requirements if you failed to submit all the necessary information with your application. If you forgot to list one of your employers from the last 18 months, for example, the unemployment office may not count the money you earned at this job toward your base-period earnings, causing it to deny your application.
In this case, you can dispute your denial and provide the additional information that you had forgotten to include the first time around. It will take some time to re-process the application, though, so you're better off double-checking that you've included all of the relevant information on your first application.
4. Your company is giving you paid sick leave or family leave
You don't qualify for unemployment if your company is still paying you for sick leave or family leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you apply while receiving this assistance, your application will be denied. However, you may be eligible for unemployment once this paid leave runs out if you are not able to return to work.
5. You quit for reasons other than COVID-19
You're not normally eligible for unemployment benefits if you quit your job, though the federal government has made an exception for those who quit due to the COVID-19 pandemic so people aren't forced to choose between their financial security and their health. But if you quit for another reason, you should make sure you have another source of income lined up because you won't be able to count on unemployment.
How to dispute your unemployment claim denial
You should receive a written notice after you've applied for unemployment indicating whether your application has been accepted. If it's been denied, the notice should explain why. You may appeal this decision if you believe the reason for the denial was inaccurate.
Your denial notice should contain instructions on how to appeal. Usually, you must file your appeal within a certain number of days from the date your denial notice was mailed to you. Your state may enable you to file your appeal online or it may require it in writing. Once the state has received your appeal, it will reach out to you with information on the next steps to take.
Other sources of financial assistance during the pandemic
If you don't qualify for unemployment, you may still be entitled to a government stimulus check. This amounts to $1,200 for single adults who earn $75,000 or less, or $2,400 for married couples who earn $150,000 or less. Families also get $500 each per qualifying child.
You can also seek out new full- or part-time employment during the pandemic. Grocery stores are a good place to turn to right now because they're seeing much higher demand than normal. You could also consider becoming a food delivery driver or working for a cleaning service. If you're concerned about leaving your home, look into work-from-home opportunities instead, like virtual assisting.
Check with your bank, credit card issuers, and service providers to see if they are offering any hardship assistance to those affected by COVID-19. These programs enable you to defer payments without racking up late fees or damaging your credit, but your balance will continue to accrue interest, meaning you'll owe more money overall. Still, it can ease your financial stress a little bit during these challenging times.
You should definitely look into unemployment benefits if you believe you qualify, but if your claim is denied, you have other options. Try appealing your denial or explore some of the other suggestions listed here.